[ASK TBM] How to Stand Out as an Online Food Business

Apron Girl PH owner Len Ilagan-David shares her story, insights, and tips on how to stand out in the competitive online food business market.

With the current boom in online food business, how can yours stand out amidst the competition? We asked the owner of Apron Girl PH for tips and advice.

As of the start of 2024, there were a total of 86.98 million internet users in the Philippines. 86.75 million of these internet users are also social media users, a market that is hungry for all kinds of goods and services available online. In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in countless online businesses, many of which focused on food. But as competition in the online food business market continues to grow, how can your business rise above the rest? 

This question has led many business owners to wonder what strategies they can employ to stand out in a crowded online marketplace. For insights and tips, we asked Len David-Ilagan, the owner of Apron Girl PH, a successful online food business famous for sweet treats like Faux Twix Bars and Dark Chocolate Pecan Toffee Cracks. 

online food business

What do you think is your advantage or unique selling proposition (USP) that makes you stand out from your competitors? What will make this advantage sustainable in the long run?

I think what makes my business special is that I like to make things that are different from what you usually find. I’m not afraid to try new ideas and put my own spin on old favorites. Since I’m in charge and I do all the experimenting, I can be as creative as I want. 

Also, I try to keep things personal, which helps people feel like they’re part of a community. This has really helped my brand grow.

What problems or gaps in the market were you trying to address with your online food business? What business opportunity did you spot that you feel that no one else has spotted?

As a small online bakery owner, I noticed most online bakeries stuck to basic treats like cookies and bars, and their customer service felt distant. So, I made a place where customers could share ideas for new flavors or treats through polls. This let me chat directly with them and find out what they loved. 

I saw an opportunity to be different by offering special desserts, talking to customers like friends, and making a cozy atmosphere.

Tell us more about your research and development process. How do you ensure your products are different and unique from the competition?

I enjoy browsing various social media platforms, particularly Pinterest, for inspiration. My creative process involves imagining products that I personally would enjoy eating or trying. I make sure to research thoroughly to ensure that the product idea is unique and not already offered in the market.

How do you stay ahead of the competition given the large number of online food businesses?

I’ve spent a lot of time researching food trends and what people like. The key is to make food items that appeal to our target market. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I always give it a try. 

Since it’s just me and Berna (my assistant), we can quickly come up with ideas and put them into action. This also means we can change the menu frequently, even weekly, if we want to. So we’re flexible and can adapt fast.

What do you consider your secrets to success, especially given competition available online?

Honestly, I don’t have all the answers when it comes to success. But what I’ve learned is that constantly innovating, trying out new ideas, and being open to learning are crucial for keeping a business going strong. Right now, I’m not afraid to step out of my comfort zone, especially when it comes to creating new products.

The key is to keep innovating and adapting as we go.

What concrete advice and tips can you give those who want to start an online food business but are intimidated by the number of competitors?

For aspiring food entrepreneurs, here’s some solid advice:

Know Your Market Inside Out: Master your target demographic and thoroughly analyze your competition within that space.

Passion and Confidence: Once you’ve identified your market, ensure unwavering pride and confidence in your products. If you wouldn’t personally stand by them, rethink your offerings.

Originality Reigns: While staying informed about industry trends is important, avoid simply mimicking competitors. Dare to be different. For instance, rather than entering the oversaturated cookie market, I opted for homemade Twix Bars (Faux Twix) and homemade Protein Peanut Butter Cups (just some examples).

Craft Your Brand’s Narrative: People love a good story. Develop a compelling backstory for your brand. A strong narrative can foster a deeper connection with your audience and garner support.

Master Social Media Marketing: Embrace the power of social media. While it may require ongoing learning, it’s indispensable for reaching and engaging with your target audience effectively.

Prioritize Customer Relations: Never underestimate the value of being courteous and attentive to your customers. Kindness and gratitude can cultivate lasting relationships and foster customer loyalty. Even if they’re rude, choose to be kind, always. 

Len Ilagan-David is the owner of Apron Girl PH, an online bakery launched in 2020. Prior to starting her online business, she was heavily involved in overseeing the sales team of her family’s corporate business, which specializes in customized IT, voice, data, and security solutions for SMEs.

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